Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Nothing says "Christmas" like divorce

Ahh, Christmas--that time of year when all we think about is joy, peace, and the loving embrace of our family. Unless you're an advice columnist.

Chicago Trib advice maven Ask Amy ran this piece on the 25th.

And perennial favorite Dear Abby dished this on the 23rd.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Where God has been

My biggest priority during my week of alone time is to read, read, read. I have a pile of books--well, now it looks more like a scattering of books--on my sofa, and I'm devouring them this week.

Tonight I started Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. My brother attended Bell's church in Michigan for several years, so when I noticed Bell's book on the top 100 sellers list at Amazon, I bit. One of Bell's hallmarks as a pastor is his emphasis on context--and I don't mean the ten verses before and after his sermon text. He likes to paint a picture for his congregation of the historical context in which certain words were uttered and scenes played out. His argument is that we miss a lot of the meaning of Scripture when we read it simply from a 21st century sensibility.

That's interesting to me, in a mild sort of way. What is fascinating to me is Jewish rabbinical thought. I got turned on to Chaim Potok in college and still list him as one of my all-time favorite writers. Potok introduced me to a whole new world of theology through his discussions of Torah and Talmud. Talmudic discussions are the Jewish equivalent to reading Scripture with a host of biblical commentaries on hand.

And that brings me back to Bell. In relating the story of when Moses was covered by God's hand in the cleft of the rock and then allowed to see God's back, Bell writes: "The ancient rabbis had all sorts of things to say about this passage, but one of the most fascinating things they picked up on is the part about God's back. They argued that in the original Hebrew language, the word back should be understood as a euphemism for 'where I just was.' It is as if God is saying, 'The best you're going to do, the most you're capable of, is seeing where I...just...was.'"

I find that true in my own life. I can't see God perfectly in the here and now. I quite often don't have a clue what He is up to, what He is accomplishing in and through and around me. I don't know where He's going, what His plan is, how it will all turn out. Sure, I can rely on His unchanging character, as revealed in Scripture, to know certain things He isn't doing. He isn't lying, He isn't being unfaithful, He isn't sinning in any way. And I can know certain big picture things about the future from Scripture. I know in the end that God wins and Satan loses. A lot of the details are sketchy, but that's the gist of it. But beyond that, I can't see a whole lot. I don't know who gets sick and dies and who gets better, which of my single friends get married and which of my married friends get divorced, whose kids become pastors and whose become felons.

But what I can see, like Moses, is where God has just been. I can look back, peering down the dusty road of life, and see His footsteps. They're not always where I expect them to be, but they're there if I look. I can see things like a last minute trip to cheer up my Grandpa in the hospital, that turned out to be God's way of getting me there to see him one last time--and to talk with him about God and pray with him as he gave his heart to Jesus. I see God's footprint all over that one. That one has deep treads, impossible to miss. Other times, just the faintest outline of a holy instep can be seen.

The trouble is, we get so wrapped up in our daily busyness that we often forget to turn around and look for God's footprints. It takes discipline. One friend told me of a shopping trip with a friend just before her wedding, when she still hadn't found the right earrings to wear. She wanted to look perfect, like most brides do. She walked up to a display of jewelry in a department store, and there on the rack was a pair of earrings that were exactly what she had been imagining. She saw God's footprint and thanked Him. Her shopping companion pooh-poohed her gratefulness. She believed in God, sure, but not a God who cared enough about a bride's wardrobe to lead her to the one store display that held the perfect pair of earrings. Some would say she was right. I think she just forgot to look for His footprints.

Turn around. Look behind you. Look at the day just passed...the last week...2005...the last five years. Where do you see God's footprints? Forget about where He is in your immediate situation, as vexing as that is. Forget about where He's going; it's none of your business at the moment. Turn around and look at where He just was. Do you see?

Monday, December 26, 2005

Then and now: results of divorce law

Jennifer Roback Morse on Townhall:

"When No-Fault Divorce was first introduced, it seemed like a good idea. People thought that easing divorce rules would lower the cost of divorce for people who had already decided to divorce anyway. No one fully anticipated how many more divorces would occur. We were assured that children would be better off living with parents who were happy, rather than living in a high-conflict environment with miserable parents. No one anticipated how many divorces would take place among couples who were not roiled in violence, but rather in marriages with an undercurrent of discontent. We thought that whether to get married or stay married was a matter of our own personal privacy. Little did we know that a government institution, the Family Courts, would morph into something that regulates private lives with the most minute detail, including who gets to spend Christmas with the kids.
"But there is hope. The younger generation is sick of the divorce culture. I hear it from them every day, whether on talk radio, or after a speech I’ve given, or in response to a column like this one. They are hungry for information on how to keep their marriages vibrant and their love alive. With some help from older people, these young married couples may just change the world. Or at least their own little corner of the world."

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Random Christmas ramblings

There's an interesting discussion on the adult stigma of being a child of divorce in the dating world on the Family Scholars blog.

In that discussion, I copied part of a post from my blog from back in October that talked about a terrificly annoying post on The author of the boundless article opined that children of divorce were unable to form relationships, stick with them, think of anyone but themselves. I find that really hard to stomach, especially since many of the children of divorce I know and have read about are very committed to their family.

I happen to be spending Christmas alone this year, entirely by choice. For two years, I had one of my brothers living with me. He moved here after college and I was glad to give him a place to stay while he was getting on his feet. With two of us out here in Virginia, my mom and stepdad decided they would relocate. Mom got a job here, but their house in Ohio has been the victim of a slowing housing market and hasn't yet sold. My stepdad has stayed in Ohio to keep the house ready to show; Mom has been living with me since August. So for the last two and a half years, I've had family members living with me. Not exactly ideal, but I guess one of the benefits of being single (perhaps one of the reasons God still has me single?) is being able to help my family out a little. After all, isn't that what family is really all about? Being there for each other and supporting one another through the good times and bad?

A little peace and alone-time was in order for the holidays, though. And lest anyone picture me eating a microwave dinner for the holidays, let me assure you it's gourmet all the way here, even if it is for one. I cooked up some salmon, jasmine ginger rice, and honeyed carrots for Christmas Eve dinner tonight and opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Christmas dinner tomorrow will be filet mignon with Cabernet Sauvignon sauce, lobster mashed potatoes, and (for dessert) individual chocolate cake with a soft center. Mmm...Christmas!

Here's to Jesus. May the King live forever.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Making holidays bright

Here's a really good article on how parents can help make the holidays, and any day, easier for children of divorce. The author is a divorced mother who reflects back on what she did right and what she did wrong, based on input from her now 27-year-old daughter. Pointers include:
1. Don't let your legal rights to see your kid trump what's really best for the child
2. Invite one of your child's friends along so they'll have another kid around
3. Help young children buy a gift for the other parent
4. Make sure your child actually gets to enjoy holidays, not view them from afar while whisking between homes
5. Don't compete or criticize when it comes to gifts
6. Never bad mouth the other parent
7. Have some joint family time
8. Let your child stay connected to extended family

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Squid & Whale

I've been feeling remiss in that I haven't yet seen the widely-hailed 'children of divorce movie' The Squid & the Whale. I don't feel so badly now. Elizabeth Marquardt just saw it herself, and posted some comments on the Family Scholars blog. Maybe I'll try to see it next week since I've got a nice long holiday break.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

On Christmas

More than 2,000 years ago, our Creator God stepped into His own creation, became the image and essence of one of His own created beings, and set into motion the long-foretold process of redemption. As the omnipotent God lay tiny and vulnerable in a rough stable, the search began.

We know shepherds sought a Savior that first night, having heard the good news from a choir of angels performing in the sky above the Bethlehem countryside. We know a group of Eastern sky watchers saw the star that marked His birth and set out in search of the great king. We know that sometime later King Herod sought to kill the Child who threatened his throne. Savior, earthly king, threat--those who sought Jesus did so for very different reasons, not all of them good.

Two millenia later, not much has changed. The name and person of Jesus are almost universally known, but He means such different things to different people. Some come to Him in humility and awe, grateful for the redemption and salvation He offers. Some seek only to know Him as wise teacher, good man, purveyor of peace and gentleness. Still others see anything related to Jesus as a threat, a danger, or ridiculous nonsense.

The amazing thing is, He came for them all! Believers, skeptics, and scoffers. When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem, they were met by a man named Simeon, described by Luke as devout and righteous. Simeon had been told that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. Holding the God of the universe in his aged arms, Simeon declared Him a revelation to the Gentiles, glory for Israel, and salvation for all people.

May you find Christ this advent season to be all of those things in your own life--amazing revelation, brilliant glory, and joyful salvation. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Small gifts

One of my favorite lines from Sleepless in Seattle is Rosie O'Donnell's line: "You don't want to be in want to be in love in a movie." And it's true. I want to be in love in a movie. Movies are a lot neater than real life. Boy meets girl, impossible situations ensue, but you know in the end boy and girl will get together and live happily ever after. Everything gets tied up in a nice, neat bow. And it all happens in the space of about two hours. I know what happens and it happens quick. Hooray for movies!

We don't get the same luxury in life. Things are messy, sometimes really messy. Neat bows have a way of getting crushed or coming untied. The ending is never entirely certain. Will the boy get the girl? Will the girl even meet the boy? Will the fairy tale fall apart in divorce, death, dullness? I want to know how it all turns out and I want it to happen quick.

But I'm called to trust. Even though I don't know how it's going to turn out, even though I can't see when or how or if situations will get resolved. It may not all get tied up in a bow. Maybe God likes gift bags better. I don't know. All I know is that He knows what's going on.

Right now, I'm just glad someone does.

What do you think?

I have mixed feelings about this one. What do you think? Would you do this?

At least this is good:"we have looked into the implications of divorce as thoroughly as humanly possible and rejected this course, choosing instead to expend our full energies on redefining and revitalizing our marriage."

These people get an F for "Are you kidding me??"

"I think marriage is good for 10, maybe 15 years. After this time you should start thinking about moving on or renegotiating the contract because people change, they go different ways."

Well, there's a good attitude. Remind me not to date any Germans.

These parents get an A for effort

Lots of parents say they want to make life after divorce good for their children, but these parents seem to really mean it. Kudos to them for sacrificing a little for their son. It can't be easy to live across the street from your ex, but if your parents aren't going to live together anymore, how nice to have them right across the street from each other so you have nearly full access to both.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Honey, I shrunk the kids

"Bitter, unpredictable exchanges between divorced parents can leave kids so stressed that their growth is stunted."

I swear vertical-challengedness simply runs in my family.

There's no place like home for the holidays

Here's a good article about the weight of holiday stress for children of divorce, including the grown children. The suggestions for dealing with it are a little weak, but the description of what holidays can be like in divorced families is poignant. Take this description: "The weight of it all often got in the way of watching for Santa." Sometimes, divorce becomes the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Where's Jesus when you need Him?

Not to be judgmental since I haven't actually been to this class (it's in Texas), but here's an example of a church that appears to be forgetting the most important component of healing they have to offer--the grace of God. Read through this news item about a class for children of divorce and you'll read not one word about children learning about God's care for them and their ability to cast all their cares on a loving God. You'll read not one word about God, as a matter of fact. Even the title of the class, "Just Me and the Kids," implies that even God has deserted them. Maybe it should be "Just Jesus, Me and the Kids." Just a thought.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Solomonic Wisdom

When I was a tot becoming a child of divorce, custody was heavily weighted in the mothers' favor. A divorcing woman had to pretty much be a completely unfit mother to not get sole custody of her children. Thirty years later, much has changed. Family court judges no longer automatically assume that mom is the best one to raise the kids. And in many ways things have improved. Dads are taking more responsibility and joy in the childrearing process.

One change that I cannot laud, however, is the prevalence of joint custody. Some advocates are pushing for legal changes that would make family court judges start from a presumption that joint custody is the best situation. I have to wonder, though, for whom that is best. Surely not for the children, who are bounced back and forth between two homes, sometimes between two schools. Children whose lives are topsy-turvy need stability injected into their world, not chaos and certainly not the permanent chaos of joint custody arrangements.

I'll admit that part of what bothers me about this is the language used. Words are powerful and when I hear talk about parental rights, I wonder about the kids. Let's face it, when people divorce, acrimony is typically involved. Everything has to get split up, not just the marriage. Who gets the house, who gets the DVD collection, who gets the dog, who gets the kids? So Bobby and Susie get reduced to the level of property that mom and dad can fight over. Maybe if the discussions about joint custody were more about what's best for the kids and less about getting a bigger piece of the pie, I'd feel better about it.

As it is, I can't help but be reminded of a judge with a difficult decision about a child. Two single moms lived together. One mom's infant son died. She switched her dead baby for the other mom's living child, and then the custody fight ensued. They ended up in the court of Solomon, the wisest man who has ever lived. In all his wisdom, Solomon ordered the child cut in half, a fair division. You know the end of the story. The real mother says the other woman can have the child, her motherly love more willing to sacrfice her rights than the child's life.

Now, I'm not advocating that mothers or fathers lose contact with their children or wind up cut out of their child's life. But in the spirit of Christmas, can we all agree that the child's right to a stable, secure environment is more important than mom or dad's right to a fair share of the spoils of divorce?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Lost: I don't know what

My midnight muse and I have been sitting here thinking about what we're missing. I bought a new car earlier this year, my first brand-new, fresh off the lot vehicle. All I knew was I wanted leather seats and a sun roof, and since I was taking one of the last of the old models the selection was limited. I ended up with a Spice Red beauty with extras that I hadn't even counted on. My leather seats are heated, which is absolutely amazing now that the weather has turned cold. I have a short commute, so there's barely time for heat to make its way through the vents; but in less than a minute, I feel the warm summer sun on my back as the heated seat enfolds me in warmth. How could I have done without heated seats all these years?? I first heard about heated seats years ago when a friend in college dated an older guy who had them in his Volvo. I thought it was the most ridiculous, over-the-top thing I'd ever heard. Now I see them for what they are--a basic necessity! OK, I'm kidding, but boy are they nice! I just never knew.

A few years back, I read Judith Wallerstein's book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. She talks at one point about two girls, one from a divorced family and one from an intact family. The girl from the intact family was married, the divorced girl wasn't. The major difference seemed to be in their respective attitudes toward marriage. Not that one was pro-marriage and the other wasn't (as some media would have us believe). The difference was that the girl from the intact family had always imagined growing up and having a wonderful man fall in love with her and marry her. The other girl had not grown up with that same confident attitude. The story struck me because I could relate. Meeting Mr. Right has never seemed an absolute certainty to me. I'd love for it to happen, but it seems presumptuous to be that confident. And it hadn't really occured to me that some girls had that level of certainty. I just never knew.

And that makes me wonder what else I don't know. What other ways has my parents' divorce affected me that I'm not even aware of? Like leather seats, perhaps I'll find out in time. For now, I don't know what I'm missing.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Some thoughts on the application of forgiveness

I spent the morning reading Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies and wrote down three quotes about forgiveness. First, on the futility of harboring unforgiveness:

"...not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die."

On a rare couple of days of vacation, I turned on the television yesterday while addressing Christmas cards and watched part of Dr. Phil. His guest at the end was a devasted woman whose father had divorced her mother. She couldn't forgive him and the rat poison was obviously rapidly dissolving her insides and sucking the life out of her. Meanwhile, her father--the rat of her loathing--sat across from her, mystified and not the least affected. Her poison was killing only her.

Later in Lamott, quoting C.S. Lewis:

"If we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo."

Maybe, like the girl on Dr. Phil or me in my mother's kitchen, you're just not ready yet to forgive your family. OK. Start smaller. Try forgiving the ungrateful birds who turn up their snooty beaks at the perfectly tasty-looking birdseed you put out, or the beautiful three-year-old neighbor girl who admires your garden by plucking all the flower heads off their stems, or the geniuses who build computers for the sole purpose of vexing ordinary sane human beings. Start small and work your way up.

Finally, in Lamott:

"At some point you pardon the people in your family for being stuck together in all their weirdness, and when you can do that, you learn to pardon anyone."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Simple answers

My writers’ group is invaluable to me. They hold me accountable, give me feedback, and brainstorm ideas for new ways to market my work. More important, they’re dear friends who share the beauty and joy of their lives with me.

Last month, one of the girls commented on the first chapter of my book, “It seems like you’re giving simple answers.” Her point is that life is not always simple. True. And she’s right—I am giving a lot of simple answers. Sometimes the answers are simple; it’s the application that gets complicated.

I know what it takes to get the runner’s body I want (the one in the mirror, that is). The answers are simple. Run at least three times a week and substitute Special K for Krispy Kreme. Easy, right? But it’s turning cold outside. And dark. I bought a nifty little clip-on light to take care of the dark. And I bought long-sleeved t-shirts and gloves. I still need a little hat, though. If I go out running now, my ears will be cold; and ears are like feet—if they’re cold, the rest of you is cold. Plus it’s the Christmas season. The decorations are finally up, but I still need to make my Christmas cards, address and mail them; whip up a fabulous dessert for the office Christmas party; make the candy I send to relatives each year. So much to be done. Who has time to run? Especially in the cold and dark? Simple answers, difficult to apply.

My dad stopped speaking to me when I was 17. I’m not sure if it was a conscious decision or just gross oversight, but it lasted eight years. His silence made me sad and angry. I needed to forgive him. Simple enough. I stood in my mom’s kitchen one day and cried as I said, “God has forgiven me of everything I have ever done or will ever do, so to deny forgiveness to someone else for one measly thing would be like a slap in God’s face. I know I need to do it, but I just can’t do it yet.” I knew the answer, but I couldn’t apply it just then. That came in time, but it wasn’t easy.

I think sometimes we try to complicate things. If the answers are complicated, then our inability to apply them is not our fault. We’re off the hook. We can wallow in sin, self-pity, unforgiveness, selfishness, whatever. We’re like the Pharisee who heard Jesus say that if he loved God and loved his neighbor, he would be fulfilling all of the law and commandments—and then said, “Who is my neighbor?” He wanted to complicate things, make up a schematic for who qualified as a neighbor and who didn’t, who he was obligated to love and who he could pass by.

When the answers are simple, we’re stripped of our excuses. We’re accountable to apply the things we know. Love, forgive, hope, trust. These are simple answers, and I’m not going to complicate it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Father God

From NPR (yes, NPR!), a great essay about our Father God. Not from a child of divorce, but a child whose father was absent for very different reasons.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Want to get the blog by email?

Now you can get blog posts (or at least the first little bit) by email. No more late nights clicking into the blog every hour to see if I've posted something new. (Ha!) Feeds are available too if you look down the right hand column, but a lot of people aren't yet comfortable with feeds. If that's you, the email list is the way to go. Just enter your email address in the "Subscribe me!" box at the very top of the right hand column. Whenever I post something new, you'll get an email with the first sentence or two and a hyperlink you click on to go straight to the blog.

Want to share your story?

As I'm writing this book, I would love to hear your story of the struggles you've encountered as a child of divorce and how you've found grace to move beyond those struggles. Your story may help others who are facing the same situation. I can't promise I'll use your story, but if I do I will change names and, when necessary, details of the story that would identify you; so sharing your story is safe and confidential. Email me here.

If you're in the midst of a struggle and want to vent or ask advice, feel free to email me as well. I'll answer to the best of my knowledge and experience, but most importantly, I'll listen.

Sense in suffering, Part 2

I know I’m not the only girl from a divorced home who wondered if she had what it took to make a relationship work. We wonder this quite naturally: We’ve seen relationship failure up close and personal. Then add in the low expectations of others. Children of divorce are supposed to be far more likely to get divorced. (That’s based on old data, by the way, data based on kids from divorced homes when divorce was not so common and harder to obtain, homes that were generally high conflict and uncommonly troubled.) Folks whose parents are still together are sometimes reluctant to get involved with us. One of my friends vowed she would never get involved with someone whose parents were divorced. She’s married now, to a guy whose parents are divorced. I hear it from prospective beaux who want to know whether I’m “from a good family.” I know that’s euphemistic for “not divorced.”

After awhile, a girl can begin to doubt her own ability to make the grade, especially a girl who is 35 and single. But dating, I’ve learned, is an opportunity to learn more about myself. (Yes, it took a special kind of genius to figure that out.)

I’ve had two pretty serious relationships as an adult. The first was lovely and ill-timed. I was young, he was younger, neither of us was ready to get married. When we broke up, my heart was broken. His was broken too, but I didn’t know that until later and it really didn’t do anything to ease my pain. I’ve dealt with minor depression off and on since I was a teen, but this was different. It was like walking on the bottom of the ocean floor, the pressure and depth crushing in its force—and then suddenly falling into the Marianas Trench. I couldn’t eat, I could only sleep because I exercised and worked so hard that I was physically exhausted, there were times when I literally thought I would lose my mind. I would go to my parents’ house on weekends and Mom would rent 5 or 6 movies without saying anything. I would spend the whole weekend on the couch, wrapped in an afghan, watching movies. The dog would sympathetically nudge me and rest his head with its sad eyes on the sofa next to me. I struggled to claw my way of that depression, succeeding only through the passage of time and the faithful prayers of a dear friend. There was no making sense of romantic tragedy at the time, but now, with eight years gone by, I can look back and see the lessons learned. I learned that I was beautiful and treasured, that a man could pay so much attention to me that he could know how (sugar) and when (after dinner) I take my tea, and he could anticipate my every move (necessary for chivalry—if you’re going to hold a ladies’ chair, open every door, help her in and out of her coat, you have to be one step ahead, anticipating what she’s about to do). I gained confidence in myself as a woman, no small feat for a girl with an absent father.

The second relationship was less lovely. We dated for two years and in the end I don’t think either of us was particularly sad to see it end. I know none of my friends or family were sad to see it end. And it makes me sad that I spent two years of my life on something I don’t regret losing. What I can say is that I see sense and meaning even in this far from ideal relationship. God let me be in a difficult relationship, one that required patience and longsuffering and perseverance. Why? To show me that I do have what it takes to make a relationship work. I didn’t give up, I didn’t walk away when it got hard, which it did often. Part of me wishes I had walked away at the first fight, a harbinger of things to come; but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I had a chance to see that I could stick it out, that when the going got tough, this toughie didn’t get going, she stayed put.

Pain is a bitter pill, and I’d rather taste sweet success any day of the week. But pain doesn’t have the last word. Sense does. When I make sense of my suffering, the suffering isn’t so bad.